Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

(aka, Cage of Doom)

This is your basic, low-budget, black-and-white, late Fifties B-Movie Sci-Fi horror film from AIP.

And not, I should add, one of the better ones made by Roger Corman, Edward L. Cahn, or Bert I. Gordon.

Like a lot of these AIP films, it’s pretty much only known from its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000 these days.  I’m not entirely sure that’s exactly a shame (despite my general indifference towards that particular SF institution), but for an essentially threadbare shoestring production, there are a few interesting ideas here.

Perhaps that’s because of Henry Slesar who wrote the original short story, “Bottle Baby,” this one was based on, although I’ve haven’t been able to find a copy to compare it to the film.  I always thought of Slesar as a mystery writer, but a lot of the writers for the short story markets of the Fifties did dabble in different genres.

An archaeologist, Dr. Hedges, gets a statue in the mail from an old friend and when he tries to date it, finds that it came from the future — and that it’s radioactive.

Now a lot of reviewers get all bent out of shape because you can’t carbon-date a metal statue.  However, in the film, Hedges merely says that he sent it to an expert who gave him the date 5200 A.D.

The real problem is that, if you’re trying to radio-date an object, the fact that it is radioactive is going to mess things up.  After all, you’re trying to compare how radioactive it is to a sample whose age you already know.  So that just isn’t going to work — even if you do happen to have a sample from the year 5200 A.D.

Which, come to think of it, is also true of the other methods of dating objects which don’t use radio-dating:  if you’re going to try to compare artistic styles, tree-rings, alloys, or writing styles, you’re still going to need known samples.

Which do seem to be in short supply for the 53rd Century.

However, Professor Erling and his assistant Victor have in fact built a machine that lets them swap objects with people in the future, only Victor has some personal reasons for wanting to build a time machine (which we never learn) and has continued the research secretly after Erling shut it down because of his safety concerns.

The two most interesting moments in the film are a mask the girl from the future uses to steal the face of a woman she kills (leaving a blank-faced corpse), and the four-eyed cat Victor brought back from the future.  Unfortunately the cat’s appearance is badly staged:  it might have been more effective on the big screen, but on TV it just doesn’t leap out at you.  Let’s face it, a second set of eyes isn’t as obvious a feature as all that if they’re not wide open and staring at you!

But those two moments are about all there is.  There are a lot of loose ends, there’s a lot of talk, and it really doesn’t do much of anything else to distinguish itself from the other SF films of its era.  It does have its moments, but only if you can accept it for what it is:

A cheap AIP film.

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